Jul. 25, 2012 - Issue #875: Shout Out Out Out Out
Rises And Falls
Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy capper isn't without its flaws
The Dark Knight Rises
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Christopher Nolan's best films are heady stuff. They've been dingily claustrophobic, small-scale noirs about head-games (Memento, Insomnia). Or an old-dream-project-turned-blockbuster (Inception) that seemed to plunge us playfully into the writer-director's head, enfolding us in Russian-nesting-dolls of plot and character motivation. Nolan's Batman movies have never, to my mind, been as strong, because its mega-budget marriage of comic-book noir and super-hero blockbuster has often lacked a sense of play and been overwhelmed by the need-to-be-a-big-deal. This sense of serious epicness has sometimes slowed down the series' plot machinations and dulled its dourly mythic main character.
The trilogy's finale, The Dark Knight Rises, can't surmount these problems, either. The movie's generally weighed down by the double weights of portentousness and momentousness. Grand dilemmas and great darknesses are always a-coming. (BAT-SIGNAL—SPOILERS AHEAD) Here, Bruce Wayne's crime-fighting alter ego returns not once, but twice, his new nemesis Bane's crime capers get super-bigger and super-bolder (a mid-air kidnapping; the daylight robbery of Gotham's Stock Exchange; a neutron-bomb hijacking), and the Wayne manor millonaire must contend with at least four foes (including the side-switching Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman), no cartilage in his legs, a broken back and personal bankruptcy. All of this is stretched out over 160 minutes, true, but for much of it our hero isn't even around (when we begin, the caped crusader's in self-imposed retirement after taking the blame for two-faced Harvey Dent's death).
Into the shadowy void step Tom Hardy and Anne Hathaway. The trilogy's often been more memorable for its villains, not Christian Bale's titular hero, and so it proves again here. Hardy, bulking Bane into a dead-calm terrorist of brute force, his gravelly, Hannibal Lecter-like voice crawling out through his odd mask, easily and memorably out-rasps Batman. And Hathaway offers a few touching glimpses of her cat-burglar's desperation and self-preservation.
The final act, too, throws in a cleverly veiled twist that marks The Dark Knight Rises as a better trilogy-capper than a movie in its own right. There's just the right balance of wind-down and (inevitable) set-up for future flicks, with elements from the first film sprinkled smartly into the mix.
The overall story remains a bit muddled, though. (And there are no great visual flourishes or outstanding action sequences—the best is the smallest, in a grotty little bar.) There's some dancing briefly around questions of hope, trust and people's power, to little effect. And the twin echoes of Manhattan-recovering-from-9/11 and the 2008 economic-crash don't really harmonize. Bane pretends to be for the people, but of course his anarchy is just warlord-opportunism; the movie itself, though, never really offers a sense of the people as Gothamites, either, just a few individuals who are heroic, law-and-order-keepers (including Joseph Gordon-Levitt as constant-trooper Officer Blake). The movie's near-fascist celebration of Batman's high-tech military hardware only adds to this cynicism—it's a few all-too-powerful men and women, and their toys, who oppress us or can save us. All "we the people" can do is sit back and watch, hopeful but helpless.
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